Personal Faith

(Ab)Normal Christianity

Photo credit: unsplash_RBenad Moving to Indonesia I thought I would learn how to live a normal Christian life, an ordinary Christian life. A lifestyle that instinctively turns to God for guidance. 

A mind-set where, above all, my heart was set on Christ in all things. This would be my default.

I thought my time in Indonesia would reprogram my brain so my natural instincts were for God, a pretty noble desire if I do say so myself.

A noble desire

Now, I am not so sure it's how things work. Of course, I think it is good, possible, and appropriate to place God above all else in our hearts and minds, and have our actions follow suit.

However, I am not convinced that Lordship and obedience are as natural or instinctive as I hoped, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

If, indeed, there is no greater love than a man laying down his life for a friend (John 15:13), then love requires sacrifice, a non-instinctive sacrifice.

We are self-preserving creatures. To lay down our lives, to give up control, hand over the reigns, to love, all these actions are in direct opposition to our instinct of self-preservation.

If our worship is offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) and loving Jesus is obeying him (John 14:15) despite what our flesh (selfish nature), our society, our instincts are leaning towards.

Maybe Christian living is never normal

Maybe Christian living is denying what is normal, despite emotions, desires, instincts, or conventional wisdom.

I see this in the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. He pleads with God to take the "cup" of the cross away from Him (Mark 14:36). Everything in Him, including His instincts, scream for another way. 

Instead, He refuses to give in. He is obedient to the Father, not his instincts as a man.

Christ's amazing love

How much more do we feel Christ’s amazing love because of his obedience instead of giving into an alternate route?

When everything in Him said no, He said yes—yes to the Father. He said yes for us! What an amazing sacrifice!

I also believe the reciprocal is true. When we are obedient to the Lord through the Holy Spirit, though everything in us is saying no and looking for an alternative, I believe the Father receives a little bit of that same love his Son poured out on the cross 2000 years ago when we deny our self.

Maybe we should view our battle against the flesh, our instincts and our desire, more as a platform to show our gratefulness to our Saviour and to love Him in a fraction of the way he loved us.

Maybe I was defining the term normal Christian life more as an easy Christian life. Maybe such a life does not exist, because it is contradictory to our nature.

To oppose our selfish nature, our instincts, and have victory in the Holy Spirit is our way of loving God just as Christ loved us. Obviously, on a much different scale, yet, what a privilege it is to return a fraction of that amazing love.

Not by our own strength

By no means do I believe we are to oppose our flesh (selfish nature) by our own strength, that would be ridiculous!

How are we to oppose the flesh with our own strength, which is by nature selfish? It is counterproductive. Rather, our greatest weapon is surrender. Surrender to the Spirit.

Therein lies the battle. The Spirit defeating our selfish nature is the easy part. The Spirit of God conquered death—by knockout in the first round. It wasn’t even close. God beats anything and everything else, every time. He is the heavyweight champion.

The battle is surrendering our spirit and our will to Him. Yielding ourselves to God. Nothing about this is normal.

Anything but normal

Normal is popping on a pair of overalls every time I face an obstacle and going to work. If I am too weak, I go to the gym, not smart enough, I head to school. But I will overcome. Me.

Victory in Christ is completely opposite. Victory in Christ is admitting defeat in the natural, surrendering, then saying "I am incapable on my own, but with Christ the victory is mine." It is counterintuitive to our instincts, it is contrary to conventional wisdom, but it is Lordship in motion.

Surrendering our self to Jesus recognizes who our King of Kings really is and allows Him to take His rightful place in our life. This is worship and victory all rolled up into one package.

Now, I am not trying to obtain a normal instinctive Christian walk, I am allowing Christ in me to oppose the norm. Now what I see as normal Christianity is anything but normal.


This is a guest post by Cole H who is a missionary with YWAM in Indonesia.

GMO-Free Community (part 2)

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon

My parents are gardeners. Growing up I ate fresh vegetables and fruit. I vividly remember the juicy taste of tomatoes and strawberries.

Yet, I remember the outward appearance of these naturally grown fruits was always different.

Organic community is both consistent and diverse.

What is the seed of organic community?

In the previous post I said organic community must have a raw and organic beginning, similar to how organic fruit or vegetables start with non-GMO seed. God is the original seed of community.

In his book Created for Community, Stanley Grenz states,

God’s triune nature means that God is social or relational— God is the “social Trinity.” And for this reason, we can say that God is “community.” God is the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who enjoy perfect and eternal fellowship.

From the very beginning God reveals that his way of life is not singular but plural. “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image'” (Genesis 1:26).

God is the consistency and we are the diversity of community.

The organic community of the early church

Looking at the birth of the early church, we see evidence of organic community.

In the book of Acts, the followers of Jesus came together with expectation. Imagine the emotions in the room!

Jesus left them with no formula but a simple command to wait for the promise of the Father,

“which you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4).

Many times we desire a formula on how to create community. We want to be told how to muster up results. Organic community is the opposite of that.

There are no formulas because the organic seed is God who is a relational being.

Diversity is the basis for organic community

God loves diversity. Organic community reflects the diverse and creative nature of God.

When the Holy Spirit encounters the disciples in the upper room, the result is not identical tongues (languages). The result isn’t a call for uniformity.

The result is a diversity of tongues (languages) calling together a diverse crowd of people. In Acts 2:9-11, the author mentions sixteen different regional locations.

Diversity was welcomed in the early church.

What shall we do?

Throw out your formulaic approach to community.

I've been training my mind to think differently about community. I avoid saying I want to create community, and replace that with, I want to nurture and foster community.

Embrace a relational view of community.

God is a relational being working within humanity. He is the creator of community because he is community. Community will always look different from the outside but will feel the same on the inside.

I encourage you to simply ask God what He is creating around you.

Are there dear relationships in your life? Invest your time and effort there.

God resides within people, we (believers) are His temple (1 Cor 3:16).

Look for God in His people, and you will find yourself in community!


This is a guest post by Sergei Kutrovski whom I've worked with the past few years teaching and training others in discipleship and Inductive Bible Study. You can see more of his posts at — http://kutrovski.wordpress.com/

GMO-Free Community (part 1)

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JChillingsworth In the last few years you have probably noticed the buzz around "organic community." Yet, are we all on the same page with the definition of that phrase?

What do I mean by "organic community"?

Here are a few of my thoughts on what it means.

Organic Gardening

When we read through the scriptures we find many examples of how physical gardening reveals spiritual truth.

The Psalms compare a man to a tree planted by water. Jesus often used gardening when He spoke in parables. It is very natural for us to see spiritual truth in physical things or circumstances.

To have an organic garden you must start with organic seed. The seed needs to be free of all human tampering.

To spare you from information overload, some seed is genetically modified by scientists. We often see packages of food with labels stating that it is GMO-free.

GMO or GMO-free?

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) do have an advantage. They are protected from attack from outside threats like bugs, weather, and even help food last longer.

Yet, GMO seed produces food that may be dangerous to our health. Many times we a utopian type of community. We must understand that organic seed is bigger than us.

Organic seed has a beginning with a Creator. It has an origin we can't take credit for, but it's planted in a garden we are called to nurture. To keep an organic garden growing and living, effort and intentionality must be put forth.

If the garden isn't tended, the garden dies. Everything organic has risk and reward. To have organic community we must realize the bigger than us source, and be very intentional in our nurturing.

Organic community

Organic community is a body of diverse, yet committed people.

Diversity within a group of people requires intentionality. Humans tend to come together based on similarities. That's normal. That's why we having sayings like, "Birds of a feather flock together."

The danger of being in a community based on similarities of interests, hobbies, nationalities, or race, is it tends to turn into more of a social club than community.

To experience the fullness of community we must risk and expect a level of discomfort due to difference. From that, we will reap the fruits of fullness, ability to love on a deeper level, and have a bigger picture of life.

Do you want organic community?

I am glad to see and hear the buzz about organic community. May all this buzz and desire turn into intentionality to tend the organic garden of community.

Forget about formulas and methods. Focus on the Seed which is Christ Himself.

What do you see Jesus doing?

What is he blessing?

What is he building?

What is he loving?

Now go out and plug into that.


This is a guest post by Sergei Kutrovski whom I've worked with the past few years teaching and training others in discipleship and Inductive Bible Study. You can see more of his posts at — http://kutrovski.wordpress.com/

A Worthy Life

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ABurden How does a person live a worthy life? Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different answers.

Nowadays, in what could be called the i-Culture, a major focus is on self-improvement, self-advancement, or simply, self-gratification.

But does all that focus on self lead to a worthy life?

The wrong focus

The focus on self in our present culture is at complete odds with the call of Jesus to follow Him (Luke 9:23). This needs to be kept in mind reading this exhortation from the apostle Paul.

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27 NKJV)

Obviously, a focus on self is a far cry from what the apostle Paul had in mind. But what does Paul mean by, “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ”? A natural inclination is to focus on behavior, which is the general meaning of the word conduct.

Sadly, the Christian life is too often morphed into an effort of behavior modification, sometimes referred to as a works-based righteousness.

[bctt tweet="The Christian life is too often morphed into an effort of behavior modification" username="tkbeyond"]

This moralistic approach to Christianity becomes a substitute for living in a manner “worthy of the gospel,” and is not what Jesus expects of His followers.

Out of focus

Our behavior doesn't need to be modified, it needs to be radically changed but from the inside out. How? We need to have a Kingdom of God view of life rather than a moralistic human view.

Jesus calls us to deny our self, not modify ourselves. We're called to die to self, not dress it up.

[bctt tweet="Jesus calls us to deny our self, not modify ourselves" username="tkbeyond"]

Jesus calls us to exchange our old life for a new life in relationship with Him. He calls us to be alive on the inside, but dead to the worldly self on the outside. But this relationship with Jesus is not an individualized pursuit.

The right focus

Paul's focus in this text is on the community of believers called the church, which is confirmed in Philippians 2:1-5. This requires commitment to a community of believers, as well as a personal commitment to Jesus.

This type of commitment was never to be optional. It was expected.

[bctt tweet="Commitment to a community of believers was never to be optional, it was expected" username="tkbeyond"]

We need each other in the Body of Christ if we want to live a life worthy of the gospel. Fellowship with other like-minded believers will help us live a consistent godly life.

When we worship and serve together, we're focused on Jesus, not ourselves.

Some questions to consider and final thoughts

Are you trying to be a good Christian person, or living by faith and following Jesus as He intends all believers to do?

How do you view spiritual maturity? Is it based on moral goodness, or spiritual soundness in agreement with God's Word?

If you want to live a life worthy of the Lord, choose to be connected with other like-minded, spiritually mature believers. Not just for a week, but on a continuous basis. This will require self-denial and dying to self, but it will be more than worth the investment.


This is an edited version of a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog here— A Worthy Life

Next week I'll return to the study in Psalms—but a change is coming so stay tuned!

If this is a help and blessing to you, please share it with others via social media or email. Thanks for reading!

5 Ways to Overcome It All

  Photo credit: unsplash.com_JThomas

When the world around us seems out of control, it's easy to become discouraged, angry, depressed, and even fearful.

When evil, injustice, scandals, unrest, and tragedies dominate the news, cynicism is easy to cultivate. Why? We get bitter and our hearts harden when we lose hope in what's right and true and good.

But there are ways to overcome it all.

Don't be overcome

If we don't want to be overcome by the snarling darkness of this world, we need to develop attitudes and actions to contend with it.

One thing is certain—as followers of Jesus, we don't need to be overcome with worry or secretly admire those who seem to get away with everything.

In a previous post, I looked at the first nine verses of Psalm 37 and pointed out five ways to overcome what we cannot control. (Psalm 37:1-9). This is a follow-up post to see how these five ways can help us to overcome it all.

5 Ways to overcome what we can't control (from Psalm 37)

1– Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)– the opposite of fretting and envy

The initial way to not be overcome with worry and envy is to trust. Any form of trust is a risk of sorts, but the risk is reduced by the trustworthiness of whoever (or wherever) we're putting our trust.

The Lord is trustworthy beyond what we can comprehend, so it boils down to our own willingness to trust Him. Trusting in the Lord isn't a choice between one thing or another, it's based on relationship.

It's a confidence that God is greater than whatever threatens to overwhelm us. This is expanded on further in the psalm (Psalm 37:10-15; 18-22). It's a confidence that God will honor our trust in Him (Heb 11:6).

[bctt tweet="Our confidence in God needs to be greater than whatever threatens to overwhelm us" username="tkbeyond"]

2– Delight yourself in the Lord (verse 4)– having right priorities

As a young believer, I remember hearing the verse, Delight yourself in the Lord, and He'll give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4), as if it was a guarantee the Lord would give you whatever your heart desired. But there's more to it than that.

It's tied to trusting in the Lord (#1 above). The focus needs to be on delighting in the Lord, not what we want or desire. When our highest priority is the Lord Himself, our priorities are in right order and he will honor that.

[bctt tweet="When God transforms our hearts, the desires of our heart will change" username="tkbeyond"]

When this is true it transforms our heart and what we desire—our selfish nature is no longer the basis for the desires of our heart. This brings contentment into our relationship with the Lord. This is seen in other verses of this psalm (Psalm 27:16-19; 23-26).

3– Commit your way to the Lord– the Lord's promised care

Many believers have the sense that once they've given their heart to Jesus no further commitment is needed. In one way this is true. Once a decision is made to follow Jesus, just as with a marriage vow, a person doesn't need to do it over and over again.

But it's not a one and done type of commitment. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks of the need to affirm this commitment daily (Luke 9:23). How can it be both?

The battle of not going with the cultural flow of the world around us is constant. It doesn't go away once we make a decision to follow Jesus. It requires a continuing surrender of our will and ways to the Lord.

I learned this as a young believer and Proverbs 3:5-6 became an anchor of truth for me when I dealt with worry, frustration, and envy of others.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

[bctt tweet="Trust in the Lord with all your heart—In all your ways acknowledge him" username="tkbeyond"]

4– Be still and wait (verse 7)– the power of disconnecting

This may seem like a passive action or no action at all, but it's a powerful way to connect with God. This is especially true in our digital age where people wander around in their own world with headsets and headphones or chasing imaginary creatures on their smartphone.

If we want to connect with God, we need to be willing to disconnect from the world around us, including people. This is nothing new and the idea of being present or mindful has once again become vogue in American culture.

[bctt tweet="To connect with God, we need to be willing to disconnect from the world around us" username="tkbeyond"]

The question for many is how? How can we digitally, emotionally, and physically unplug for a while? You'll need to find your own way to do this.

One way I do this is to get up early in the morning (while it's still dark) for a less-distracted time with God. Another thing that helps me is riding my bike on the beach, or fully engaging in worship.

As I said, you'll have to sort out how you can do this, and it requires some discipline and commitment.

5– Refrain...forsake...fret not (verse 8)– breaking the cycle

A friend of mine showed me an illustration and explanation of the Cycle of Rage that's relevant here. A choice needs to be made to break out of the cycle of reacting with anger or fretting when things seem out of control (Psalm 37:8).

This is a choice to not be controlled by our circumstances or feelings. How? This brings us full circle to the beginning of our ways to overcome it all.

When you begin to roll down the hill of cynicism and despair, it's time to put the brakes on!

[bctt tweet="If you're rolling down the hill of cynicism and despair, put the brakes on!" username="tkbeyond"]

Choosing God's kingdom over this world's dominion

What's described in these five ways to overcome is not a list of disciplines to apply, but a way of life in the Kingdom of God. This is seen in the repetition about inheriting the land (Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34). For the Jews, this spoke of God's kingdom on earth.

But the kingdom of God is not restricted to a dominion upon earth, it encompasses all those who trust in the Lord in a personal way. Jesus refers to this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:5), and Paul speaks of this in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 4:13; 14:17).

The world around us may continue to darken, but it doesn't have to run over us like a truck.

[bctt tweet="The world around us may continue to darken, but it doesn't have to control our life" username="tkbeyond"]

Our life may not go as we expect, but when we choose to trust in the Lord, committing our ways to Him, we have the assurance of inheriting a better life than we could make for ourselves as co-heirs with Jesus (Gal 3:29; Eph 3:6).

What will you choose today?

Justice Is Driven Back

unsplash-starrynight_man_light_JSewell If you love the truth and value honesty, lies and injustice should prompt anger to rise up in your heart.

But if you value deception when it's expedient to your cause, whatever it might be, your heart will swell up with pride.

When truth is mocked and integrity of character is set aside, judgment is not far behind. But what, if anything, can you do about it?

Nothing new

Deception is nothing new. It's as old as...well, humanity. The first humans on earth started the ball rolling, but had some help disseminating deception.

In the Garden of Eden, he came as a clever serpent (Gen 3:1), he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44).

Deception, injustice, and evil will continue to be with us until the Lord returns and settles things His way. But how are we who trust in the Lord to deal with blatant deception and injustice?

[bctt tweet="How should we deal with blatant deception and injustice?" username="tkbeyond"]

It's a challenge to live our daily lives, raise a family, and live a life of integrity when deception and injustice seem to prevail. How do we respond when leaders prove to be untrustworthy?

After the justifiable anger rises up and before it boils over, we need to consider how to respond in both wise and practical ways.

The dilemma

Moral and ethical darkness are not new in the world. Corruption, injustice, and oppression by governments is common throughout history.

This doesn't mean we just tolerate it or dismiss it. The gravitational pull created by the black hole of corrupt and oppressive leaders suck life and hope out of people's lives. Both the innocent and the righteous are impacted.

When Israel was plunged into moral and spiritual darkness by their own unfaithfulness, God rebuked them—

Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter.

Honesty has disappeared; the one who tries to avoid evil is robbed.

The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. (Isaiah 59:14-15)

The inevitable question comes, "Why doesn't God do something about it? Doesn't He care?!"

God does care! He has intervened over the centuries and personally intervened when He came as the Word of God in human form (John 1:1, 14).

[bctt tweet="God cared & intervened to help His people many times, even in person through His Son" username="tkbeyond"]

A resolution

What are we to do? Is there something we can do? There is.

He sees that there’s no one to help. He’s astounded that there’s no one to intercede. [italics mine]
So with his own power he wins a victory. His righteousness supports him. (Isaiah 59:16)

The prophet declares that God is astonished no one is interceding on behalf of Israel in their moral and spiritual darkness.

The dictionary describes an intercessor as someone who steps in on behalf of another to plead for them. Who was God expecting to intercede? The spiritual leaders of Israel.

Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action.

[bctt tweet=" Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercessory prayer may seem passive, even weak, but it's far from that. Jesus is often shown praying before significant events throughout the gospel narratives. Intercession was vital and key to the church's survival and growth in the book of Acts.

Standing in the gap

God's concern for an intercessor is echoed by the prophet Ezekiel—

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezek 22:30 NKJV)

Where are the intercessors now? Nations all over the world are in turmoil and need intercessors—people who will "stand in the gap" and plead for their nation and people.

[bctt tweet="Where are the intercessors who will stand in the gap for their nation?" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercession requires commitment and consistent faithfulness when others give up in the face of adversity, and when it seems nothing is changing for the good.

Standing firm

When God saw no one who interceded for the nation, He stepped up to do so—

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)

The figurative phrases in this text are similar to what the apostle Paul said to believers facing the oppressive Roman Empire—

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:13)

The larger context of this verse describes this armor of God in detail, with the list concluding with prayer, intercessory prayer (Eph 6:10-18).

This is what we can do, and how we are to respond when deception, evil, and darkness seem to prevail. Even if you're not a recognized leader, you can lead as an intercessor.

[bctt tweet="If you want to stand firm in hard times, prayer is vital, including intercessory prayer" username="tkbeyond"]

Doers, not just hearers

Jesus said those who hear His words and put them into practice will stand firm, like a house built on a rock (Matt 7:24-27).

No human leader can solve the world's woes. Clamoring for justice won't bring resolve. Putting hope in such things is like building a house on the sand. When storms come—and they will—these hopes will crumble.

When the world tumbles with turmoil and what once seemed secure is shaken, we need a solid foundation to stand firm in the midst of it all.

Knowing the truth isn't enough. Each believer needs to be a doer, not just a hearer of truth (John 13:17; James 1:22).

[bctt tweet="Knowing the truth isn't enough—we need to be doers, not just hearers of truth" username="tkbeyond"]

We need to engage in a wise and practical way. God's choice and direction is intercession, not mere protest, and certainly not empty rhetoric.

We need to live out the truth day-to-day, even when others around us abandon it.

We need to appeal to the One who alone is able and who will bring true justice and righteousness.


How will you respond when truth is mocked and integrity is shunned?


If this post is of value and encouragement to you—please share it with others... thanks!

Redemptive Reconciliation

Photo credit: unsplash.com_willvanw If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, it is yours, if it doesn't, it never was. This sentiment, or some variation of it, was popular in the seventies—the Me Generation.

Inevitably, someone put a cynical spin on it—if it doesn't come back, hunt it down and kill it. The issue centers around people and possessiveness.

Slavery is a form of possession. It comes in different forms and levels, from bondage to indebted servitude. Slavery is slavery, in whatever form it is. It reduces a person to an object. It is inhumane.

Slavery has existed for thousands of years, and is found in the Bible. Some people question why the Bible doesn't condemn slavery, but seems to accept it.

The small personal epistle of Philemon refutes that idea, as does the book of Exodus.

Useful and valuable

Many, if not most, of the activists for the abolition of slavery were people of faith, who believed in God as a creator of all humanity. It is still the case. This epistle gives some insight to this.

For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 15-16 (NKJV)

Paul appeals to a man of status in Philemon, who was a believer. A church met in his home that was the fruit of Paul's ministry in the ancient city of Ephesus.

[bctt tweet="Many, if not most, of the activists for the abolition of slavery were people of faith" username="tkbeyond"]

Paul makes the case that Onesimus, whose name means useful, is now much more valuable than a slave. Now Onesimus is a man and a brother in the faith because of the work of God's grace in his life.

A change of status

Although Onesimus had stolen from his master (Philemon) and run away, now he was a changed person. He was forgiven and redeemed by God, and Paul had found him to be useful as a fellow-servant in God's kingdom.

In other words, Onesimus gained a new usefulness by becoming a fellow believer.

Since Paul was the spiritual mentor of Philemon, he appeals to his brother in the faith to forgive and receive Onesimus, whom Paul raises to the status of his own “child” (verse 10).

[bctt tweet="The epistle of Philemon is a guide to appeal for reconciliation in a godly manner" username="tkbeyond"]

Transforming freedom

It's interesting how Paul focuses on the person who is redeemed by God from slavery to sin and death, not the right or wrong of slavery.

His reasoning with Philemon is based on the equality all three men have in God's kingdom.

This is a valuable epistle. It serves as a guide to appeal for reconciliation in a godly manner.

It underscores the nature of genuine Christian faith—the power of the cross is more valuable and important than any cause, no matter how noble it is.

[bctt tweet="The power of the cross is more valuable and important than any cause" username="tkbeyond"]

What brings real transforming freedom for anyone caught in slavery? Only God's redeeming grace.

Some questions and an encouragement

Are there people you tend to see as inferior to you?

Is there anyone you hold resentment or unforgiveness towards?

As you reflect on how God's grace has set you free—

Who is someone in your life that you can extend some type of kindness?

  • Be intentional and gracious towards those you encounter this week, especially if they have wronged you.

This was a guest post originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. Here's that link– Redemptive Reconciliation

Independent or Dependent?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_KMorris Is there a difference between patriotism and nationalism? There is. They are similar terms, yet different. Most of us probably don't know the difference, but there is one, and it's important to note.

This distinction is especially important for those of us who claim to be Christians—followers of Jesus Christ.

How about you? As America gathers once again to celebrate the 4th of July—are you a patriot or a nationalist? Read on if you're not sure or don't think there's a difference.

Patriot or nationalist?

The 4th of July celebration is a remembrance of our founding fathers making a Declaration of Independence from England. This precipitated a formal intent for the colonies to separate themselves from the tyrannical rule of King George III.

You may have heard the somewhat trite Christian saying that, while many in America celebrate independence "we will celebrate our dependence on Jesus." This is where the distinction between patriotism and nationalism matters.

What do these terms mean? [taken from Merriam-Webster's Dictionary]

  • patriotism—love for or devotion to one's country
  • nationalism—loyalty and devotion to a nation; a national consciousness exalting one nation above all others, and promotion of its culture and interests, as opposed to other nations

As a missionary to other nations, I have a love for my country, but not in disrespect towards other nations. I respect the love others have of their native country.

I appreciate my nation's history, which I've read quite a bit about, and see God's sovereign, gracious hand in the birth of our nation. But my USA citizenship is secondary to my being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

A lesson from history

Nebuchadnezzar was someone who knew about nationalism, and yet had a life-altering encounter with the One, True, Living God. Here are a two places where this is made clear— Daniel 2:44-45 & Daniel 4:34-37.

He went from the most powerful man on earth to a mindless beast, back to the most powerful emperor who acknowledged the prophet Daniel's God as the One, True, Living God.

He came to realize that the greatness of his powerful empire—Babylon, which gobbled up so many other nations—would be one of a long line of empires overcome by God's sovereign kingdom.

My first allegiance

I celebrate my country's birth and independence this 4th of July weekend with thankfulness for what's made America great. Having traveled many places in the world, I appreciate my native country's many blessings and freedoms, including the 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedoms.

At the same time, I affirm my first allegiance to God—my dependence on Him above all else.

Here are four Scriptures that express my independence from the tyranny of the culture and spiritual darkness of this world—regardless of geographic region or government—and my dependence on God, through my Lord and Savior Jesus—

  • Joshua 24:14-15
  • Proverbs 1:7 & 9:10
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Luke 9:23-26

May you know the blessings of dependence on the One, True, and Living God through His Son Jesus Christ, and if you are an American citizen, may you enjoy the rich blessing of the nation whose heritage we celebrate on the 4th of July.


Here are a couple of links related to America's celebration of the 4th of July

Do Something Bold This Fourth of July

Facts about the USA flag

US Bill of Rights

These are some excellent books I've read related to the 4th of July

1776

John Adams

Rise to Rebellion

The Glorious Cause

 

Heart of Compassion

Photo credit: Mick Ewing I can spot grandparents right away. It's not the age differential, but their interaction with the children.

Grandparents, especially boomers, tend to look younger than in earlier generations, and some become grandparents in their forties.

When I see three generations of a family together, it's easy to see who the parents are. Aside from their appearance, parents and grandparents interact with the children in very different ways.

Parents and grandparents

Parents wear the day-to-day responsibility on their faces, and have the countenance of marathon runners mid-way in a race. Grandparents now enjoy the race as spectators. But, they are experienced spectators.

As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. Psalms 103:13 (NKJV)

Imagine God the Father as a grandparent. As a pastor, I've known many people who find it hard to relate to God as a father, because of their relationship with their own earthly father.

But God has lots of experience as a father—for hundreds of generations. He's the Almighty Father—full of compassion with a mercy that endures forever (Ps 136).

[bctt tweet="God has lots of experience as a father—for hundreds of generations" username="tkbeyond"]

Affection and compassion

I'm a father of four and a grandfather of five (so far!). Although I liked playing with my children a lot when they were young, it's now become a primary role for me. I love it, just like so many other grandfathers!

I'm sure you've seen grandparents fawn over their grandchildren, acting as if they're the only children on the face of the earth.

It's because the affection and compassion that fills our hearts outweighs our responsibility for them. I've seen fathers who were strict authoritarians melt into sugary cupcakes as grandpas.

In this text, the NKJV uses the word pity, but it also translates as compassion or mercy. This is the heart of God (Luke 6:36), whose mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23).

[bctt tweet="God's heart is filled with mercy and compassion, which are new every morning" username="tkbeyond"]

The fear of God and compassion

Even though God's mercy is an overflowing reservoir of compassion, it is reserved most for those who recognize Him for who He is— God.

The fear of God is not a cowering, anxious dread, but a respectful sense of awe and wonder.

God, the Creator and Sustainer of life for all, bends down with a compassionate heart to embrace us, His children. He extends this love to whoever will receive it and Him (John 3:16-18).

He calls us into a very personal relationship. It's an affectionate embrace for those who see Him as He is—God Almighty and full of mercy.

Not every one has a living, loving father on earth, but everyone can have and know the Father of all fathers. His love knows no boundaries and His heart is an ever flowing stream of compassion.

[bctt tweet="God's love knows no boundaries and His heart is an ever flowing stream of compassion" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

What is or was your relationship like with your natural father?

How does your relationship with God reflect this?

If you have difficulty relating to God as Father, have you expressed this to Him?

If not, what would you say and how do you want it to be different?

Who has been a good fatherly influence in your life or the life of those you love?

Let them know this today.


This was originally published on the Daily Devo blog of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Here's the original post– Heart of Compassion

Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.


This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

One Thing You Lack

Photo credit: unsplash.com_CStMerc We all view people and the world around us in different ways. It’s called a worldview. We see through certain filters, and these filters affect how we see things. They reflect our biases and our point of view.

For example, we size people up based on our own perceived status. We see people as richer or poorer than us, skinnier or fatter, more intelligent or less intelligent, and well, you get the idea.

A rich young man

The story of the rich young ruler who questioned Jesus about eternal life has three points of view—Jesus’, the young ruler’s, and ours.

Our view may be similar to that of the disciples or the young man. But it’s nearly impossible for us to see things from Jesus’ point of view.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’”—Mark 10:21 (NKJV)

In fact, many of us grapple with what Jesus tells this young man. It hits home, especially for us Americans. We are quite wealthy compared to most of the world, and we have a lot of stuff.

Too much stuff!

How much stuff do we have?

So much that it requires more than 2.3 billion square feet in 60,000 self-storage buildings. (These are statistics from 2009.) That’s a lot of stuff!

The average American has a lot in common with the rich young ruler.

Look at what Jesus says first: “One thing you lack . . .” This young man lacked little in worldly possessions, but he didn’t have what he wanted.

So Jesus tells him to sell what he has and give it to the poor, and this would bring him treasure in Heaven.

Couldn't let go

The rich, young ruler went away sad. His possessions were too costly for him to give up.

He couldn’t let go of them—even for the one thing he really wanted—eternal life.

When Jesus looked at the young man, the Bible says He loved him. Jesus knew what He told the man to do would be hard, but He did so out of love for him.

If we believe Jesus loves us, then we need to take this to heart. When we say we’ll follow Jesus as His disciples, are we willing to exchange what we have for what He gives us?

Here are a few questions and a challenge or two—

  • How much “stuff” do you have?
  • Are you willing to part with any of it? If so, how much?
  • Take a simple inventory of what you own and ask yourself how much of it owns you?
  • Try giving something away this week, and see how difficult it is to do.
    • If it’s pretty easy, keep at it. And if it’s hard, keep at it!

This was originally published on the Daily Devo blog of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Here's the original post– One Thing You Lack

How good is good?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_LMichael

Ask people if they'll go to heaven after they die and many will say, "Yes." If asked why, they often say something like, "Because I'm a good person, and I try to do good."

It's just possible that, much of the time, a person may look pretty good in comparison to some others. But other comparisons are not so favorable.

Ask Christians how to please God, and you're likely to get a similar answer. But how good is good?

The problem of comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort. Though you may find favorable ones, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

[bctt tweet=" Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort" username="tkbeyond"]

Of course, when we compare ourselves with God, we lose every time. Think not? Try comparing yourself to Jesus, the Son of God. It shouldn't take long to see your dilemma.

A common Christian test is inserting your name in place of "love" in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We're told by the Bible, mentors, psychologists, and talk-show hosts, not to compare ourselves with others. But try as we may, we still make comparisons to see how we measure up.

"Am I better looking than... smarter than... thinner than... kinder than...?" And on it goes. We seem powerless to stop it. As the apostle points out, it's an unwise thing to do.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Co 10:12 NIV)

Trying to measure up

Not long ago, I did a home inspection that had height measurements marked off with dates on a wall. This helps answer the question, "Am I growing taller?"

But how do we measure ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth? If we compare ourselves to others, it's only a matter of time before we don't measure up in some way.

Trying to measure ourselves on the basis of behavior or habits, or any similar metric, is also futile. Why? Because we're using the wrong metric.

Evaluating a person's moral behavior is not a measurement of their spiritual growth. As the common saying goes—it's like comparing apples to oranges. Morality is based on performance, while spiritual growth can only be measured by eternal qualities.

So, how do we determine spiritual growth? Perhaps a better question is, why do we need to measure it at all?

[bctt tweet=" Why do we need to measure spiritual growth at all?" username="tkbeyond"]

Beyond our reach

A young, wealthy man came to Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good teacher (rabbi)..." (Mark 10:17-25).

Jesus asked back, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 NIV).

True goodness is out of reach for us mere mortals. It is an eternal quality.

So, should we just give up on all of this? Yes and no.

We need to give up measuring and comparing ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth. But we need spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the indicator we have that spiritual life is going on within us, but how do we gauge it?

In the story with the young wealthy man, Jesus instructs him to leave all his wealth to become one of His followers. This young man claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood.

Jesus didn't debate Him on this, but went to the core of what the man trusted in—himself and his wealth.

Even if we claim to be righteous in a moral sense, we still fall short of God's goodness (Rom 3:10-12).

Some good news

Thankfully, no one needs to obtain moral perfection to gain entrance into God's presence. Jesus did this with His life on earth and through the cross—His death and resurrection (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:11-14; 10:10). This message of redemption (the gospel) is echoed throughout the Scriptures.

But... how do we know if we're growing spiritually?

As pointed out before, we don't need to measure spiritual growth, but we need to grow spiritually. But, how can we tell if it's happening?

The answer is pretty simple. If we go back to the story of the young rich man (Mark 10:17-25), we see what Jesus said to him—to sell all he had and follow Jesus.

Many messages based on this story focus on what the man was to give up, but this misses the main point. Jesus was inviting this young man into relationship.

When we enter into a genuine relationship with God, spiritual growth comes naturally (John 15:5-8).

[bctt tweet="When we are in relationship with God it will be obvious to others" username="tkbeyond"]

We don't need to make comparisons, we need to continue in a personal, fruitful relationship with Jesus—the Vine (John 15:1). Then our spiritual growth will be natural and evident, even to others.


This is a revision of an earlier post a couple of years ago, as a follow-up to last week's post—What Does It Mean to Flourish?

What Does It Mean to Flourish?

Photo credit: OceanCityChurch.org Comparisons are valuable in choosing one thing from another, such as an appliance or car. But making comparisons between ourselves and others is never valuable, unless you're trying to make yourself miserable.

What's worse is when we carry on conversations in our mind, it's called self-talk, where we belittle ourselves for not measuring up. Measuring up to what? Who? What standard? That's exactly the problem.

When we condemn ourselves on the basis of our performance as a person, it's so nebulous and random, and we're the only one who hears it. Sound familiar?

A universal problem

All of us battle negative self-talk. It leaks into our thoughts in spite of our intentions and desires to curb it. Why is this so? Too many reasons to list, and they're different for each of us.

Most of it comes from what we heard growing up, but interpreted and filtered by our own perceptions of what we heard said, and done in some cases. Then, doing what comes natural—estimating how we size up in comparison to others—and that is a losing battle.

Who's to blame for it all? Go back to the first garden and the fruit from a certain tree (Gen 3:1-7). Forget about blame, what can be done about it all?

A simple solution

Just last week, I saw a video that features some of my family, narrated by my son's lovely wife, LeAna. As I watched and listened, I was captivated and encouraged by what she said.

It's something that needs to be heard by everyone, especially Christian believers.

I hope you'll read through LeAna's thoughts (echoed in the video) and watch the video below. It's well done and worth the few minutes it takes.

Take it to heart, and run it through your mind instead of all that negative self-talk.

LeAna's thoughts...

I felt like the Holy Spirit impressed something on me just recently. I felt like he gently said to me a few days ago this phrase, “LeAna…you live under a cloud of guilt.” hmmm…WHAT was that, HS?! Where’s that coming from??

But as i’ve thought about that, I see exactly how that is true of me.

Here are thoughts that constantly run through my mind…

“I should be doing more…”

“I’m a crappy wife…”

“I suck as a mom…”

“Why does anyone want to me my friend?”

“I’m far too much for people to handle. They don’t want any of that!”

“I need to be doing more for God.”

“I’m simply not doing enough…”

“I need to reach out to more people.”

“I’m not spending enough time with God.”

“I need to work harder…”

It might sound like a bad case of low self esteem…for sure there are definitely some insecurities all over those thoughts, not the least of which is comparison to anyone and everyone who might seem like they are doing it better than me.

But its more than that.

I feel like the Holy Spirit was sweetly telling me that I live and operate out of a belief system…a false belief system, that keeps me under a cloud of condemnation.

I’ve heard the phrase before in my life, “i love you, but I don’t really like you.”

Sometimes I think God says that about me. “I love you LeAna…(almost cause He has to say it…He’s God)…but my enjoyment of you comes and goes, based on what you are doing or not doing.”

THAT IS THE BIGGEST LIE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NIV)

What does it mean to flourish?

Ocean City Stories: Flourish from Ocean City Church on Vimeo.


Here's LeAna's original blog post that this post and the video are adapted from– Receiving

In that post, you'll see my lovely daughter-in-law and two of our grandchildren when they were much younger.

Thanks for reading and watching! I hope this video blesses you as much as it did me!

How I Got Theology– Part 3

Photo credit: unsplash.com_NCollins American evangelical churches have worked hard to reach out to younger generations over the past couple of decades. It's not gone that well.

Sure, more mega churches dot the landscape, but a great many people, especially younger ones, have left the organized church, or simply left the Christian faith.

Much effort has gone into attracting and drawing people into church, while others focus on being missional. Sadly, the foundation for faith is often neglected with these efforts.

An assumption

Aristotle is credited with the postulate that nature abhors a vacuum. A vacuum existed in the mid-sixties—a lack of spiritual integrity and substance. This vacuum got filled with philosophy, religion, and cultural trends. Life is cyclical. There is an ebb and flow to everything on earth.

An assumption was made by organized churches in the years preceding the Jesus People Movement. It was assumed that young people had no interest in studying the Bible. I see a similar assumption at present. It was a wrong assumption 50+ years ago and it's wrong now.

The opposite is true. Many young people are seeking the truth and are interested in the Bible. And, many people want mentoring, but they reject authoritarianism.

[bctt tweet="Many young people seek truth and are open to be mentored" username="tkbeyond"]

A hunger

A great biblical ignorance exists today. Not a lack of Bible knowledge or resources, but ignorance. Why? Much of what is presented and promoted is not processed thoughtfully and spiritually by those who receive it. The truth of God needs to be processed in our mind and meditated on in our heart.

[bctt tweet="The truth of God needs to be processed in our mind and meditated on in our heart" username="tkbeyond"]

A great hunger and interest in the truth existed when I came to faith over 45 years ago. Yep, I'm old. I'm a holdover from the Jesus Generation, as it was called.

I remember hours of shared engagement studying the Bible with other people of my generation. We did it in churches, often sitting on the floor, in homes, on our own, or outside in public. We couldn't get enough. I couldn't get enough.

It wasn't listening to well-crafted messages from the Bible, it was a personal encounter with Jesus. He (Jesus) has a lot to say about the value of digging into the Scriptures—

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39 NIV)

It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life. (John 6:63 NCV)

“If you continue to obey my teaching, you are truly my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NCV)

 “Use the truth to make them holy. Your words are truth. (John 17:17 GW)

A personal encounter

Is there a difference between attending a Bible study and studying the Bible? Yes. I've seen many people attend a Bible study, taking in what is said as valuable information. But, if that information doesn't become life-giving truth for them, it is simply Bible knowledge.

Bible knowledge isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't transform a person, it informs them.

[bctt tweet="Bible knowledge doesn't transform a person, it informs them" username="tkbeyond"]

If our study of the Bible isn't a personal encounter with Jesus, but only a pursuit of truth, we miss the most important thing. As Jesus said, "these very Scriptures speak about me!" (John 5:39 GNTD)

So, how does Bible study become a spiritual encounter with Jesus? Here are some things that help build a good foundation for your own personal theology to develop—

  • Prayer—perhaps too obvious, yet so vital it must be mentioned—we need to ask God to reveal His truth to us (Matthew 16:17).
  • The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17)—How can we receive God's revelation apart from His Spirit?
  • Reading and listening to the Scriptures—there is nothing that can replace this. No one else can do this for us (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Regular study of the Bible—if not daily, weekly—a consistent digging into the Scriptures so your faith is founded on a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24-27)

Need more?

This is the final of a 3-part series that began with How I Got Theology– Part 1. It's my personal answer to three questions posed in a previous post called Got Theology? where I look at how we all develop a personal theology.

If you'd like more guidance on how to study the Bible in a personal, yet systematic and objective way, you can download my 7-page Primer on Inductive Bible Study. It is a simple guide to Inductive Bible Study (IBS) developed from many years of training pastors, leaders, and other followers of Jesus, here in the US and overseas.

Just click on the link below, fill out the short form, then download it.

Click Here to Download the Basic Primer on Inductive Bible Study

How I Got Theology– Part 2

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JErondu Leadership is often described as influence. Several heavyweight leaders say these terms are interchangeable. I don't see it that way.

Yes, leaders can be quite influential in both good and bad ways, but this is not a given. I've seen people in leadership roles with little to no influence. The net effect of their leadership is nil.

On the other hand, I've known and witnessed influential leaders who've had great impact.

Leadership and influence

I ran across an excellent article on the difference between influence and leadership by Steve Graves. He makes a good case for the distinction between leadership and influence.

[bctt tweet="There is a distinction between leadership and influence" username="tkbeyond"]

Plenty of people have been good leaders with good influence, such as, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, and Billy Graham.

Leaders with evil influence? Sadly, it's not a short list, but men like Adolph Hitler come to mind.

Then there are many leaders who have a somewhat sketchy influence. A cursory look at political personalities could produce a lengthy list.

What about spiritual leaders where character and integrity are essential? Among them we can find good, bad, and even sketchy examples.

[bctt tweet="Spiritual leaders can have good, bad or sketchy influence in people's lives" username="tkbeyond"]

Another question

Last week, I answered the first of three questions I posed in a challenge in a previous post.

This week I want to look at the second question and give my personal answer. Here's the question—

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?

Three leaders were influential in the early development of my spiritual life and theology.

Two are now with the Lord, but their leadership and influence are still embedded in my life. One is my age, alive, and still influencing others for good as a leader.

[bctt tweet="Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life and in what way?" username="tkbeyond"]

My first pastor

I came to faith during the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's and early '70's. I mentioned some of this in last week's post.

Ironically, the church I was thrown out of for asking the wrong question is where I got grounded in the truth of God's Word. It's also where I began serving the Lord in full-time ministry under my first pastor, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

It was under him that I developed an appreciation for the grace of God and studying God's Word. Pastor Chuck was known for these two distinct things, not only in my life, but for thousands of others.

Both the grace of God and God's Word became foundational in my spiritual growth and my theology through his ministry. He was a living example of their importance and value, and a strong pastoral leader with great, enduring influence. Chuck went to be with His Lord in October of 2013.

[bctt tweet="God's grace and Word were foundational in my spiritual growth and theology" username="tkbeyond"]

A sage and a mentor

As my wife and I grew in our spiritual lives, we became more involved at the ground level of ministry while serving at a church and retreat center near Desert Hot Springs, CA.

When we arrived in 1973, it was a small church and retreat ministry in a sparsely settled area of the low desert of southern California. Susan and I learned so much about serving in every way imaginable.

Although it was remote, many significant spiritual leaders of the 1970's visited this little spiritual oasis. One of them was Rev PHP Gutteridge, known to us as "Percy". He was much older than us and also much wiser, a true sage.

Percy's teaching had spiritual depth and often centered on the cross of Christ, and the need for Christian believers to walk the way of the cross. Originally from England, he pastored this church in its infancy. In our time there, he visited on a regular basis, especially when we held large holiday retreats.

After I planted a church in 1978, he would come to preach to our little growing congregation in the upper desert area of Yucca Valley, CA. When he died in October of 1998, we were missionaries in the Philippines.

His life and ministry continue to influence us both to this day. Percy stirred my heart to further plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the essential simplicity of the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

[bctt tweet="I was stirred to plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the way of the cross" username="tkbeyond"]

My friend and mentor

My involvement in ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa came at the invitation of a young man my age, but with much greater experience.

Bruce's wife, Joni, was pregnant and found it difficult to hold her guitar to lead praise for children's church. I and a couple others jumped in to help and this began a long term friendship in ministry.

Bruce opened the door for me to serve in many ways. When he and his young family moved out to the church and retreat ministry I mentioned earlier, we joined them and the ministry about a year later. We served their for five years, and it was of great value in so many ways.

Through Bruce's pastoral guidance, I learned how to preach, teach, counsel and lead as an assistant pastor. This was the foundation for my stepping out to plant a church and to develop a Bible College in the Philippines. It was practical, hands-on training.

[bctt tweet="I received practical, hands-on training that became a foundation for pastoral ministry" username="tkbeyond"]

But he was more than a pastoral mentor to me, he was a true friend. Bruce has a clear grasp on the immense, far-reaching love of God, which was infectious. His influence continues to reach around the world in a ministry he founded while pastoring in southern California—He Intends Victory.

Who for you?

So, now that you know who were important spiritual influences in my life and theology, how about you?

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far?

And what is their influence in your life?

How I Got Theology– Part 1

Photo credit: unsplash.com_APokusin The truth of God is not relative. That is, it doesn't change to adapt and conform to changes in the culture and beliefs of people.

Much is made of the idea of relativism and a post-modern mindset. The concept that what's true for you isn't necessarily true for me, isn't truth.

Personal, philosophical beliefs don't become reality just because they're thought out. The natural laws of the earth and universe illustrate and reflect the unchanging nature of God, its creator, and His truth.

Clichés aren't sufficient

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, "Got Theology?" The gist of it is that theology can become highly personalized. And yet, the truth of God remains unchanged. It's based on who He is, not opinions or a belief system.

[bctt tweet="God's truth remains is based on who He is, not personal opinions or beliefs " username="tkbeyond"]

Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe. The trite saying—God said it, I believe it, that settles it—isn't sufficient, it's a cliché.

Arriving at why we believe what we do—our theology—can be understood by seeing how we arrive at that belief. I won't backtrack through what is shared in the previous post, but I do want to look at a challenge I posed in that post.

[bctt tweet="Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe" username="tkbeyond"]

The challenge—3 questions

The challenge involved 3 questions that help determine how our personal theology develops. As an example, I'll answer these questions for my own life. I'll do this over the next three weeks.

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you. Here are the 3 questions—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

My learning curve

I'm a visual and kinetic (experiential) learner. I tend to learn best by watching, then doing. I'm also a reader.

My search for truth and faith included the study of various philosophies and eastern religions. I attempted to live these out to a certain extent, as I read about them. Music and hitchhiking were also part of the process.

I also read the Bible each day for at least two years, yet without understanding it. I talk about this in my book, some of it in the first chapter.

My life reflected the times of that search—the mid to late 60's in America. I was immersed in the turbulent counter-culture that marked those years. This carried over to my faith search.

A turning point

I'm a rebel at heart when it comes to learning. I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all. Of course, this doesn't go over well with authoritarian teacher-types. It even got me thrown out of a church when I kept pressing for answers.

[bctt tweet="When learning, I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all" username="tkbeyond"]

In the midst of my search, I came to a turning point in my life. I went up into the mountains, where I lived at the time, and challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some way. I was expecting something like a sign in the sky, a burning bush, or audible voice, but none of that happened. Discouraged, I headed back to my trailer.

Still wanting to hear from God, I opened my Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible to read. It's then I came across Matthew 7:13-14 and realized I was on the wrong path.

Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. (Matt 7:13-14 GNT)

I took this as a challenge, but I refused to pray the ("sinners") prayer or write down the date, as the notes in my Bible suggested. Like I said, I don't just accept things without question. I did have an assurance in my heart that my faith search was settled. Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology.

[bctt tweet="Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology" username="tkbeyond"]

What about you?

So, what about you? Have you had a turning point in your life, come to a crossroads, or other cathartic experience that settled your faith and brought assurance?

[bctt tweet="Have you had a turning point in your life that brought assurance of faith?" username="tkbeyond"]

This is an important first step in developing a personal theology. It's called a lot of things—coming to faith, conversion, getting saved. Whatever you call it, it needs to happen. It's the starting point of a settled faith, a personal trust relationship with God.

I'd love to hear from you on this—

What stands out as most important in your life as a believer?

Why is this so important to you?


Next week, I plan to continue this series of posts and look at the influential spiritual leaders in my life.

Projects and Posts

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon Projects. I like working on projects. However, I've learned it's easier to start projects than finish them. That's probably true for most of us.

One of the reasons I like projects is my tendency to lose interest in doing just one things for a long time. I like new things, different things, and I like challenges.

Recently, I've been working on a new project. It's connected to a couple of other projects that are revisions of previous projects I've completed. I hope to make it available next week.

What's make these popular?

For this week's post, I've collected a few of the more popular posts on my blog. I'd like to get some feedback on what makes them interesting or engaging.

Is it the topic? Is it the title? What is it a link on social media? What is it recommended by someone?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to know. So, here's the list of the top 5 posts, let me hear your feed back and thoughts.

Top 5 posts

  1. The Art and Value of Encouragement
  2. 5 Basic Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith
  3. Acronym-ically Speaking
  4. About the Beginning of the Story
  5. Who Needs Fellowship?

Again, as you check these posts out, let me know what interests or engages you most about them.

  • Is it the topic?
  • Is it the title?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What is most valuable or helpful for you?

Thanks! And please feel to comment on or share any of these posts!

Life Reflections

IMG_0819 What significance do life events have? Are they just random, or is there a distinct meaning and purpose for every life event that takes place?

These types of questions keep philosophers and theologians in business, so to speak. All people tend to wonder about such things.

I'm sure some events and situations have a purpose in our lives that have significance to us, but I admit, many life events can seem pretty random or insignificant.

Planned events and purposes

This past month, my wife and I spent time with our youngest daughter, husband, and now, two daughters. Our purpose in spending a month with them had two primary goals—being present for the arrival of our fifth grandchild and be of some help to our daughter and son-in-law.

We enjoyed our time immensely and fulfilled those two primary goals. But other life events took place while we were there.

I won't enumerate them all, but I want to note a few of them, then consider whether they are random, planned, or if their timing matters.

Random or planned?

Two births

The week we arrived, our granddaughter did not. If fact, it was the beginning of week three when she arrived.

The week we arrived, the pastor where my daughter fellowships announced his wife was pregnant. He shared with the church on the next Sunday about their miscarriage. It was a bittersweet morning, but the pastor handled it well.

But still, we awaited the arrival of our granddaughter, our daughter was overdue by a week or so. We were waiting with expectant joy and the pastor and his wife were grieving.

A death and a birth

Soon after our arrival in Germany, I heard of the passing of a dear friend in the US. I had been praying for her for several years, now I would pray for comfort for her husband and their three grown children.

They were a significant family in the life of the church we planted in the late 70's. They are good friends of ours and were some of our supporters while we were missionaries in the Philippines.

Over a week later, we welcomed little Brielle into the world and into our family. One person leaves this life, while another comes into it.

Timing

It's not so much the events, but the timing of these things. Is there significance to this timing, or is it just random?

Just before we left Germany to return to the US, I heard about a long time friend receiving a devastating diagnosis, and another friend passed away.

It's normal, maybe typical, for us to wonder about the timing of certain life events. But do we need to know or understand everything? Do we need to have a definitive answer and insight into it all?

Faith, randomness, and destiny

Some people see everything in life as random. I'm pretty sure that most believers in God, regardless of religion or theology, don't hold that opinion.

Still others see every event in life as part of a grand plan, even destiny. I suppose this can include people who are into conspiracy theories (I'm not one of those people, btw). The idea here is that every single thing is preordained (predestined) and has a meaning.

I don't doubt that life events have significance, but I've stopped trying to figure out how it all fits together, or whether certain events even do.

It's not because I don't care or don't think about all of this. I do. But I accept that some things are just beyond my capacity to figure out, and I've realized I don't need to know everything about all life events—mine, yours, or anyone else's.

Faith and reflection

An inherent quality of faith is trust. Not theological belief, but an implicit trust in God (Hebrews 11:6).

In 1997, a tragic fire took the lives of five children under our care, and nearly took the life of our youngest daughter. Everything we had in the orphanage building was reduced to rubble and ashes.

Remarkably, God sustained us in the aftermath. That's a long story all its own, but not for now. So many things didn't make sense, and yet it all made sense somehow.

Indeed, our family was in shock for quite a while, something like PTSD. All I know is this. God sustained us in ways we can't explain, through many people and a series of events that's followed that tragedy.

Why do we need to know?

People reached out to us, prayed for us, and cared for us. We, along with many, had the usual questions summed up in, "Why God?"

We don't have a clear answer to it all, but we clearly saw the hand of God upon us and the ministry for years afterwards.

I needed to come to a place of trust more than understanding. I accepted that I didn't need to know why.

It was a lesson in faith, in trust. Either God is God, or He's not. I believe God is sovereign and living and personal. I also believe in free will. I choose to exercise my free will to trust in the Lord without having to figure everything out.

That's faith. It's what Abraham was recognized for that brought him friendship with God (James 2:23). The Bible is full of similar people of faith, and I choose to be among them.

How about you?

Have you learned to trust God this way, or do you think you need to understand it all? 

(Please feel free to comment!)

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

Got Theology?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ABurden Theology, gotta have it! Even atheists and agnostics have a form of theology—one doesn't believe God exists and the other is unsure or indifferent. It's still a belief about God.

Many different types of theology exist. Some theology is complex, it requires a PhD to know authoritatively. But most people have a much simpler theology based on their personal experience with spiritual truth.

We all believe something about God, no matter how we define or describe it. 

A (very) basic understanding

Christian theology is categorized in various ways. The most common one is systematic theology. It's a system of beliefs, but often with an embedded view-point.

Systematic theology sets out to be objective, but the starting point can be subjective based on certain beliefs, such as—Evangelical, Reformed, Pentecostal, or Roman Catholic perspectives.

Another major area of Christian theology is Biblical theology. It's based on what is revealed from the written Scriptures, and is, I believe, more likely to bear the original intent of the Holy Spirit's inspiration (2 Tim 3:16).

Of course, Biblical theology can be both objective or subjective depending on how it's approached. If an objective approach to exegesis is applied, even an inductive study, the theology gained should be more objective, systematic and trustworthy.

[bctt tweet=" It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others" username="tkbeyond"]

A cultural theology is also common for many believers. This tends to be highly subjective and personal. In other words, it's distinctively un-objective. One example of an American version of this became known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Gaining a good theology

Unless you're a seminary grad or highly motivated Bible student, most Christians believe what they're told or taught by influential leaders in their lives. These would include pastors, evangelists, and popular speakers and authors.

It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others, unless you develop an objective and systematic approach for studying the Bible.

Paul the apostle's exhortation to the young leader Timothy reflects this—

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

This is the value of an approach like Inductive Bible Study, or IBS. A very basic description of how it's done is expressed in the three primary steps to the IBS approach—observation, interpretation, and application.

Perhaps in the next week or so, I'll talk about this in more detail. If that sounds interesting, let me know!

Belief-based or relationship-based theology

One question I think we all need to answer is this—How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology? A follow-up question is—How have we developed our personal theology?

We've all developed our own theology, whether we're aware of it or not. It develops over time as we learn and internalize truth as we understand it. That's the key thing. How do we understand it?

[bctt tweet="How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology?" username="tkbeyond"]

It comes down to whether we have a belief-based or relationship-based theology. What's the difference? One is grounded in certain beliefs, but often leads to dogmatism. The other is grounded in relationship, but based on the truth revealed by God's Spirit (see John 14:26 and 2 Tim 3:16-17).

When dogmatism becomes the basis of a person's spiritual assurance, a person's faith can be shattered if something undermines their belief. When our theology is relationship-based, it grows out of an abiding, continuing relationship with Jesus and His word abiding in us (John 15:5, 7-8).

A few more thoughts and a caveat

Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:10-14). I know this from experience. As mentioned in my book, I read the Bible every day for about two years before I began to understand it.

My openness to God was the key, not the time I spent reading. When I opened my heart to the Lord, He opened my eyes to understand the truth in His word (the Bible).

But God has shown it to us through his Spirit... Some people don't have the Holy Spirit. They don't accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. Things like that are foolish to them. They can't understand them. In fact, such things can't be understood without the Spirit's help. 1 Cor 2:10, 14 (NIVR)

[bctt tweet="Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment" username="tkbeyond"]

So, how can we develop a sound theology and a true understanding of God? A rule of thumb that's helped me is found in John's gospel where Jesus rebukes some Jewish religious leaders—

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.... (John 5:39 NIV)

Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus. If we only gain more biblical knowledge, then we become more like the Pharisees than Jesus' disciples.

[bctt tweet="Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus" username="tkbeyond"]

Finally, everyone needs to be careful about how they interpret the Bible. It isn't just how it suits one person or another, nor how it should be understood from a certain religious viewpoint.

It needs to be consistent and congruent with what the author of the Scriptures intended. The author is God via the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter reminds us—

No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever originated from humans. Instead, it was given by the Holy Spirit as humans spoke under God’s direction. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (GW)

A personal challenge

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What's been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

You can respond to this post directly or on the social media where you see this post.

Would you like to know my answers to these questions? Then, let me know!


BTW, the photo for this post was downloaded from unsplash.com and the photographer is Aaron Burden, check out his photos... he's a fellow believer!